PRISON WRITINGS by Leonard Peltier


My Life Is My Sun Dance
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            Part manifesto, part memoir, a standout collection by the celebrated, long-imprisoned American Indian Movement co-founder and activist.           

            Peltier, a Sioux Indian, has been in federal prison since 1977, convicted of killing two FBI agents during the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, S.D.  Peltier asserts that he did not commit these murders, writing simply, “Innocence has a single voice that can only say over and over, ‘I didn’t do it.’  Guilt has a thousand voices, all of them lies.”  (In his preface, former attorney general Ramsey Clark makes a compelling argument for why we should believe Peltier, a case also made by Peter Matthiessen in his much-litigated book In the Sprit of Crazy Horse).  In this anthology, Peltier charts the course of his activism, describing his evolution from a young man on a South Dakota reservation who wanted what other young men in his circumstances wanted – a car, a job – to a political organizer keenly aware of the injustices visited past and present on America’s indigenous peoples.  Although he too easily falls into sloganeering (“We are the voices of the earth.  We speak for those who are not yet born.  When you exclude us, you exclude your own conscience.  We are your conscience!”), Peltier has much to say about American Indian politics, a dauntingly complex set of issues; among other things, he insists that the US government follow a Canadian model in offering reparations for historical wrongs.  He also advances the plausible view that the siege at Wounded Knee was a sideshow meant to disguise a deal through which a uranium-rich portion of the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation was ceded to the federal government.  Writing more personally, Peltier recounts the intricacies of living behind bars.  “As a houseguest in hell,” he writes, “you learn that the devil has many mansions, and you keep shuttling between them for no know reason.”

            An important contribution to Native American letters, sure to stir both controversy and renewed attention for Peltier’s ongoing quest for freedom.         

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20354-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1999


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